A challenge for you: Community coworking space and Web worker job training

Right here, right now, I’m going to give you a great idea, for free. Enter it in the Knight News Challenge (deadline: Oct. 15), or perhaps more likely, the Community Information Needs challenge (next year). Or fund it yourself. Or bootstrap it. Or pitch it to a local nonprofit with stimulus money to spend on job training in your city.

The Pitch

  1. Open up a coworking space for the Web workers in your town.
  2. Partner with a local nonprofit organization tasked with providing the community with job skills training.
  3. Give the Web workers (your paying customers) a discount based on the number of classes or hours of one-on-one training they offer to the community.

If you live in a city with a vibrant community of Web workers, chances are you’ve heard of coworking. I’d hesitate to call it a movement exactly, but it’s a trend with a simple premise: Create a space for telecommuters and freelancers to do their thing in a collaborative office-like setting, where they can use whiteboards, conference rooms, and each other to sound out ideas and maybe have a cup of coffee or two along the way.  Users of this space pay a daily, weekly, monthly rate, using a variety of membership models, for benefits like a reserved spot, an assigned desk, or storage lockers.

So there you are with a posse of intelligent, hard-working, collaboration-minded Web workers doing their thing, having a good time, and generally feeling like the next big thing.

Now is the time to use that momentum for social good.

Open up your coworking space to the community.  Maybe you’re located in an urban area still behind on the revitalization curve.  Maybe you’re located in a university town with a serious digital divide issue.  Maybe you’re located in a suburb hit hard by the recession, with lots of unemployed folks looking around for their next career.

Open your doors to them, with at least two options for learning Web skills that could help them get their next job, a better job, or their first job:

  • Classes taught by one or two coworkers at a time, like an introduction to Photoshop, HTML/CSS basics, or blogging.
  • Office hours where coworkers with specific skills are available for one-on-one training for more advanced students.

Things you will need to make this work

  • Web worker friends interested in coworking.
  • A nonprofit organization as a partner.
  • Patience.
  • Funding: I mentioned the Knight Foundation earlier, but this doesn’t have to be about news.  There are millions of dollars flowing into communities and nonprofits from the federal government at the moment, and post-industrial job skills must be on the list of the sort of things that money should be paying to provide, right? Right.
  • A very serious entrepreneurial spirit.
  • A big smile.

I gave this idea some pretty serious thought a few months ago in Rochester, NY, before we moved to the DC area, and came to the conclusion that I wasn’t personally ready for the massive life-changing-ness that this sort of enterprise required … but maybe you are.

If you go for it, let me know.

Notes for news-oriented friends: Yes, your news organization could do something similar in a Newsroom Café setting, and at some point I thought this could be a way to train the community as citizen journalists to provide a context for learning Web worker job skills.  Maybe that would work.